Earliest human figurative art claimed


December 16, 2019

Published in the journal Nature for 11 December 2019is a paper describing the oldest example of human figurative art and dated to approximately 44,000 years ago buy uranium series methods. A cave named Leang Blu’ Sipong 4 was investigated in 2017  by a team led by Maxine Aubert and yielded a panel proximately 15 feet long, depicting animals apparently being hunted by "anthropes", i. e., human forms with animal heads. The cave  is located on the island of Sulawesi in the Indonesian archipelago..

The abstract of this paper reads as follows: "Humans seem to have an adaptive predisposition for inventing, telling and consuming stories. Prehistoric cave art provides the most direct insight that we have into the earliest storytelling, in the form of narrative compositions or ‘scenes’ that feature clear figurative depictions of sets of figures in spatial proximity to each other, and from which one can infer actions taking place among the figures. The Upper Palaeolithic cave art of Europe hosts the oldest previously known images of humans and animals interacting in recognizable scenes2,, and of therianthropes —abstract beings that combine qualities of both people and animals, and which arguably communicated narrative fiction of some kind (folklore, religious myths, spiritual beliefs and so on). In this record of creative expression (spanning from about 40 thousand years ago (ka) until the beginning of the Holocene epoch at around 10 ka), scenes in cave art are generally rare and chronologically late (dating to about 21–14 ka), and clear representations of therianthropes are uncommon —the oldest such image is a carved figurine from Germany of a human with a feline head (dated to about 40–39 ka). Here we describe an elaborate rock art panel from the limestone cave of Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 (Sulawesi, Indonesia) that portrays several figures that appear to represent therianthropes hunting wild pigs and dwarf bovids; this painting has been dated to at least 43.9 ka on the basis of uranium-series analysis of overlying speleothems. This hunting scene is—to our knowledge—currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world.”

Hereto four, the most well-known examples of European cave art, depicting animals and in a few cases hunting scenes,  are from Lascaux, France and Alta Mira in Spain dating from around 21,000 years ago.

The color photographs taken by the investigators need interpretation and the untrained eye finds them difficult. An enhanced depiction is provided in a BBC account of this discovery.

Read the full account in Nature. See also the BBC analysis.